Yes, communication is a practical skillset: what you do and how you do it. So it makes sense to focus on things like preparing for your next presentation. But communicating well is also about embodying certain qualities when you interact with others. And you can reach that level of embodiment through day-to-day routines that help anchor new habits and allow you to grow into an outstanding communicator.
“One thing I wish all professionals knew about practical ways to improve communication is that, in order for this work to be effective, you have to approach it with less effort and more ease than other skill-building opportunities,” says Leah Bonvissuto, communication coach and founder of PresentVoices.
“In fact, I advise my clients to reject the idea that this is skill-building at all –my clients have access to confident communication when they feel comfortable, so all of our work is about cultivating that same comfort into less comfortable moments at work.”
Here are five daily rituals that will drastically improve your communication skills.
1. Practice being attuned to others in conversations
“The most important thing that professionals can do to improve their communication skills is to be attuned to the people they communicate with. This entails active listening, but it also involves tuning in to the kind of person you are communicating with,” says Linda Carlisle, Sr. Manager, Corporate Responsibility & Communications at Elkay.
Perhaps you’ll discover your boss is data-driven and needs process and precision. Maybe you’ll notice your coworker loves connecting with others and feels good about small talk before meetings. Taking the time to practice tuning into others in your daily conversations will strengthen your perceptiveness and help you craft the right message for the right audience, a key communication skill.
“Taking time to listen proactively and understand what your colleagues want to hear and how they need to hear it will help you flex your communication style to give them what they want,” says Carlisle.
2. Bring yourself back to the present through movement
“Once a day, while you are by yourself, practice moving your attention to a physical activity in order to practice presence,” recommends Bonvissuto.
“Most of us escape to anxious, analytical thinking when we are put on the spot. This creates tension in the body, lack of airflow, and inability to access your innate knowledge and experience.”
When you move your attention to your body instead of your mind, you’ll be more conscious, generative and present in professional interactions, she adds. All good things as far as becoming a stronger communicator.
3. Set communication intentions for each one of your meetings
“One way to improve your communication skills is to begin each day by reviewing your calendar and considering your planned meetings. What are your communication objectives for each session? What do you hope to accomplish?” says Carlisle.
According to her, you’ll also want to consider the people you are meeting with. What do you think they will care about bringing to the table? How do you believe they feel about the topic at hand? Do they know a lot about it and what will they need to know? What kind of possible concerns could they have?
“Writing a communications agenda to take with you into your meeting that addresses as many of these information needs as you possibly can go a long way toward earning you a reputation as a great communicator.”
4. Prioritize your physical comfort
“In virtual and in-person meetings, I often see folks leaning in around a boardroom or making themselves so small on their computer screen that they are more likely to speak fast and feel anxious,” shares Bonvissuto.
“My biggest piece of advice for communicating with more confidence is to prioritize your own comfort. When we feel physically comfortable we can be more in touch with our own perspective and access our best ideas in our most important moments.”
So whether you take a moment to set up your chair properly before a Zoom call or carve out a 15-min break halfway into a long meeting, think about what would make the setting of a communication opportunity more physically comfortable for you on a daily basis.
5. Listen to understand instead of to answer
How you listen is as important as the act of listening to itself, says Carlisle. And most of us instinctively listen to give an answer. Listening to understand, on the other hand, is a habit you need to build every day. You can start by noticing when you are planning what you are going to say next in your head instead of openly receiving what someone is saying.
“Active listening means putting aside the chatter in your brain and the need to ‘win’ in the exchange. Instead, try tuning into what your colleague is saying. Listen to the words they choose, their tone, and their body language – these are all vital parts of the message,” according to Carlisle.
“Make an effort to really receive whatever they are laying down. Once they have fully expressed themselves, pause and reflect and respond thoughtfully to the entire message they have conveyed.”
You’ll be amazed at how much better your communication becomes once you start truly listening to others’ needs, as well as the fruitful outcomes that follow.
“Stating your case in terms that are responsive and sensitive to the needs of your colleagues will do more for gaining collaboration and buy-in than laying out your agenda without any consideration of the needs of your audience,” says Carlisle.